Victoria Azarenka Pulls Off Stunning Comeback to Upset Serena Williams in US Open Semifinal

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Victoria Azarenka extended her winning streak in New York to 11 matches with a victory over Serena Williams in the US Open semifinal. In 2012 and 2013, Azarenka and Serena Williams battled in consecutive US Open finals. Both times Williams came out the winner. Thursday, the roles were reversed. Azarenka, after initial nerves, settled in to the contest, absorbed Williams’ power on serve and off the ground, and forced Williams into long, taxing rallies eventually overcoming the 23-time Major champion–who injured her ankle at the beginning of the third set–1-6 6-3 6-3.

Victoria Azarenka Pulls Off Stunning Comeback to Upset Serena Williams in US Open Semifinal

Set 1

All of the reasons for Williams and Azarenka’s lopsided head to head were apparent in the first set. Williams, from the first ball, attacked Azarenka’s serve – both first and second – and prevented the Belorussian from establishing a foothold in almost any rallies. Williams broke in the first game of the set and never looked back. She held serve comfortably and constantly put pressure on Azarenka. By contrast, Azarenka was displayed early nerves, striking the ball tentatively. Within 20 minutes Williams had a 4-1 lead with two breaks of serve. Azarenka managed to create a break point opportunity for herself, but Williams managed to erase the chance. Though Azarenka lead 40-0, Williams came back to break yet again to win the set 6-1.

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Set 2

Williams’ aggressive returning, stepping into the court and ripping through second serves, continued to keep Azarenka off balance. Her own serve remained untouchable with Azarenka barely able to return, let alone construct the kind of points that might fatigue or challenge Williams. Even when Azarenka constructed challenging points, Williams rose to the challenge, moving more swiftly and smoothly than she had in earlier rounds. Azarenka finally managed to break Williams for a 3-2 lead and also started serving with more potency and precision, growing in confidence as the match wore on. Azarenka’s body language transformed over the course of the second set – she stood taller and moved more purposefully between points. Even with Williams playing some of the best tennis of the tournament, Azarenka found a way past her. As the cries of both competitors filled the still air of the close-roofed center court, Azarenka carved out two more break points at 5-3 and converted the first to win the set 6-3.

Set 3

Early in the third, Azarenka remained in the ascendency as she fended of Williams’ inroads on her own serve and managed to take Williams to deuce at which point Williams, who had twisted her ankle, received medical attention on her already heavily strapped left ankle. Azarenka broke shortly thereafter with Williams bouncing from foot to foot between points as she tried to remain energized. Williams, screaming with what sounded like a mix of frustration and pain, finally held serve for 1-3. Azarenka continued piling pressure on Williams, relentlessly forcing her to move out of position for rally balls. Azarenka held her nerve in the face of Williams’ final onslaught to win the match, taking the third set 6-3.

Post Match

Williams’ quest for a 24th Slam has yet again been put on hold. Since her last win at the 2017 Australian Open, she has fallen short in four finals and now a semifinal. After taking the first set in commanding fashion, Williams had the match wrestled from her grasp before, at the beginning of the third set, injuring her left ankle. Azarenka managed to serve out the match after claiming the early break in the third set, completing her stunning comeback and reaching a Grand Slam final for the first time since the US Open in 2013.

Victoria Azarenka will face Naomi Osaka in the final. The Japanese woman defeated an in-form Jennifer Brady in an incredible three-set match earlier Thursday.

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